Patriotism and I

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

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OPTIONAL JULY QUESTION: What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?

MY ANSWER: There are so many, it is hard to choose, but I think the most valuable one is: you can find story ideas anywhere. When I started writing, I hoarded my story ideas. I was afraid – don’t laugh – that someone would steal them. I’m not afraid anymore. I have so many ideas, I won’t be able to write all my stories. Maybe someone else will use some of my ideas. I don’t mind. After all, I steal story ideas too, but my stories based on those stolen ideas surely are different from anyone else’s stories based on the same ideas.
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One of the ideas that is floating around, especially in the fantasy genre, the genre I write in, is patriotism. A number of writers touch on this theme. In one of my published novels, Eagle en Garde (out of print for now) the protagonist is a patriot. Many of his choices are dictated by his love for his country and its people. But do I have the right to explore this idea?

My relationship with patriotism is complicated. I believe that patriotism is not a clearly defined concept. I think I’m a patriot. I live in Canada. I love Canada. My country celebrated its 150th birthday just a few days ago, on July 1st, 2017, and I feel warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.

For many years, I’ve been a subscriber to a classical music series by our Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Every year, I try to attend the first concert of the year, because the Orchestra starts every season with the Canadian anthem. Everyone in the audience stands up. People sing together. It’s a very uplifting experience. I love it.

I don’t usually pay attention to commercials on TV, but one of them caught my attention in 2000 and still holds it. It’s the famous commercial for Molson Canadian beer. I don’t drink beer, but I love this clip. I always smile when I watch it.

My problem with all this is: I wasn’t born a Canadian. I’m an immigrant and I lived half of my life in Russia before immigrating to Canada.

Years ago, CBC ran a contest for the best ending to the phrase: “As Canadian as…” The winning entry was: “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances.” That phrase applies to me, but can I really consider myself a Canadian patriot? Is that okay to be a patriot of a country that adopted me, not a country I was born and grew up in? Shouldn’t I be a Russian patriot instead? Because I’m not and never have been.

I’m Jewish, and Russia has never been nice to its Jews. Canada is. Canada has been very nice to me. It gave me all I wanted and all I needed to fulfill myself as a woman and a writer. Is it right to be a patriot of a country because it is a good place to live? What about countries that are not so good, countries where life is tough? Could my heroes be patriots of such countries, while I myself am not? Can I write about such patriots convincingly?

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WEP: Golden Fish

I’m continuing Tasya’s story, although this episode took place after the first one, Back of the Drawer, but before the second one, Peace & Love. Tasya is still pregnant. I hope Yolanda and Denise from the WEP website, as well as the other participants, will forgive my temporal inconsistency.
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“I don’t want to steal with my magic,” Tasya objected. “I’m not a thief.”

“What if someone’s life depends on your ability to steal? Someone might need money to escape arrest,” Grandma said sternly. “You pitch your magic against NKVD – you can’t be squeamish.”

The old witch was right, as usual. Tasya sighed and repeated the exercise. Create a dark space – like under an overturned pot. Envision what you steal. Pull with magic.

She didn’t plan to get rich from her loot anyway. She only stole a few coins from each of the people passing beneath the window. Later, she would give the money away to someone needy.

An hour later, Tasya left her grandma’s place but she didn’t want to return to her empty room. Misha was on a business trips to Voronezh. Again. Lately, he had spent weeks there. His company was building a new plant. As an engineer, he was needed on site. Without him, she felt lonely and uneasy.

Vague premonition had been simmering inside her, and she couldn’t explain it. Misha should be safe; he wore the shield medallion infused with her protective magic. She should be safe too: she was a mere librarian. Just in case, she had recently taken to wearing one of her protective medallions as well – a charming golden fish. Her baby swam like a fish inside her belly after all.

Smiling at the thought, she trudged along the path winding through a shallow ravine, overgrown with bracken. A creek at the bottom separated her old housing development from the more gentrified city blocks and their local theatre house. Tonight, her friend Garik performed in the show. She would wait for him to come out afterwards and hope he could cheer her up.

He had always managed that. They had been classmates and friends, the three of them – Misha, Garik, and herself – since high school. They had lived on the same street too. Garik, the class clown, had always wanted to be an actor. Now he was one.

Absently caressing her belly, Tasya crossed the little foot bridge over the creek. She had to stop on the other side, under the huge willow, to catch her breath. The purloined coins in her purse weighed heavily. Darn her pregnancy. She had never been so weak before.

Panting, she leaned on the willow’s trunk, concealed from the street by the dense, multilayered foliage and the falling dusk. People passed a few meters away, but nobody spared a glance her way. When a loathsome black Marusia rolled to a stop in front of the theatre and two men got out, they didn’t see her either. They marched inside the theatre. They came to arrest someone.

Despite the balmy evening, icy dread ran down Tasya’s spine. Garik, get out, she pleaded silently, trying to nudge her friend with her magic. Perhaps, he heard her mute plea. He slipped out of the side door of the theatre and sprinted toward the bridge.

“Garik!” she called urgently. “Don’t cross the bridge. Hide under.”

He glanced towards her voice, his eyes full of panic. “Why me? What did I do? I’m a comedian,” he mouthed. Dropping on his knees, he scuttled between the low bushes into the muddy nook under the bridge, the hiding place all the local children knew. Unless someone stood in the middle of the creek right in front of him, he would be invisible.

“You make people laugh,” Tasya whispered. She pressed her back to the willow, willing the hanging branches to turn into a true curtain, to envelop her in gloom. Her magic obeyed, and not too soon.

The two men from the Marusia burst out of the theatre. Waving their guns, they pounded towards the bridge. If Garik were fleeing that way, they would’ve seen him despite the descending night. As they didn’t, they stopped to confer a couple steps from Tasya’s refuge, almost on top of Garik’s.

“He didn’t run across,” one officer muttered. “We would’ve spotted him. Where did he go?”

She needed a distraction. Her gaze fell on the handcuffs suspended from their belts. They were so close, her magic sensed the weight of the handcuffs, and the darkness under the willow was almost absolute. All the conditions needed to steal with magic.

Thanking her grandma for the timely felony lesson, Tasya latched onto the handcuffs and tugged with her magic. She didn’t pull them towards herself. She tossed them as far away as her magic could reach, into the shrubbery along the theatre wall. The leaves rustled faintly, as one set of the handcuffs landed, then another.

“There he is,” an officer shouted and took off after the handcuffs. Another followed. Both disappeared around the corner.

“Across the bridge, Garik,” Tasya hissed. “Hurry!”

He scrambled from underneath and raced across the bridge, vanishing into the bushes of the ravine. Much more slowly, she waddled after him. The officers didn’t show up again, but she watched from the safety of the ravine as the Marusia drove rapidly away from the theatre. It would head towards the large traffic bridge, blocks away.

“Tasya?”

“Garik, where are you?” The ravine didn’t provide any illumination.

“I’m here.” He grabbed her hand and guided her towards the street lights and home. “Careful. If you fall down now and break something, Misha would skin me alive, worse than those NKVD goons. I’ll just run home, pick up some stuff, and be gone.”

“No, don’t go home. They know where you live.”

“By the time they drive around, I’ll be long gone.”

“What if they already have someone waiting there?”

Garik swore. “What do I do? I don’t have much money with me.”

“I do.” Luckily. She rummaged in her purse for the stash of coins she had stolen from the passersby earlier and thrust the small jiggling canvas bag at him. “That should be enough to keep you fed for a while.” Then she took off the fish necklace and put it over Garik’s head. “You slipped through their net once. This fish will keep you slippery, so they never catch you. Wear this medallion always, promise me,” she whispered, pouring her magic into the fish. The golden creature seemed to flutter for a moment under her fingers.

“Thank you, Tasya. I promise.”

They were already close enough to the street lights so Tasya could finally see the path under her feet. She pushed Garik away. “Go. Leave Moscow, and you’ll be safe.”

He nodded, started to say something, changed his mind, and melted into the side street.

Tasya felt light, almost weightless without the burden of coins in her purse. No, she realized. It wasn’t just the coins. Her premonition had lifted. She smiled and shuffled home.

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Looking for beta-readers

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

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OPTIONAL JUNE QUESTION: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

MY ANSWER: Actually, no. I started writing late in life, when I finally discovered the joy of sharing my stories with the world – mainly my computer, but still, not just my head. Writing is where I ended up after decades of searching for my place in life. My stories are my refuge and my joy. I might stop writing them down one day but I don’t think I’ll ever quit making them up. It’s not up to me anyway, and my imagination doesn’t show any signs of quitting. The stories appear in my mind – or snatches of stories sometimes – no matter whether I write them down or not.
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But I quit something else related to my writing, and maybe I shouldn’t have. For a long time I looked for an online writing group in my genre of speculative fiction, or a couple beta readers for my new fantasy and sci-fi stories, but for one reason or another, I couldn’t find a permanent solution to this problem. A couple years ago, I quit trying, but we all know how useful a beta-reader’s critique could be. A few months back, I exchanged beta-reading with another writer (I read her story and she read mine), and her comments helped me tremendously to improve my story. I only hope my comments were equally helpful to her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t need my critique anymore, so I can’t ask her either.

Now, I’m looking for beta readers again for my new sci-fi short story. So I’m asking here. If I don’t ask, I will never know if anyone is willing, right? Maybe some of you, my wonderful IWSG friends, would be willing to beta-read my story or exchange critique with me. Tell me in the comments.

The story is roughly 7,500 words. It’s science fiction. It is also a retelling of the Greek myth of Arion and the dolphin.

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Isabella and the Pot of Basil

The legend of Isabella and the Pot of Basil inspired many artists, especially those belonging to the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. You might have admired some of their paintings based on that legend, but do you know the story? It’s not as romantic as the paintings imply. It originated in Boccaccio’s Decameron (day IV, story 5). Here is the summary.

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William Holman Hunt

Three merchant brothers had a beautiful sister Isabetta. She fell in love with Lorenzo, one of her brothers’ clerks, and he returned her sentiment. Once, when she went to Lorenzo’s bedchamber at night, as she did most nights, one of the brothers noticed.

The brothers got angry, lured Lorenzo to a secluded spot in the woods a few days later, and murdered him. They told Isabetta that Lorenzo went away on a business trip.

She missed her lover terribly, cried, and prayed, and finally, he appeared in her dream and told her what happened and where the brothers buried his body. She went there and uncovered the body. She couldn’t take it home, of course, so she chopped off his head and brought it home, where she kissed it, washed it, and put it inside a big planter pot. She filled the rest of the pot with soil and planted basil on top. (I have some choice words here, but I’ll refrain from expressing my disgust.)

Edward Reginald Frampton

She watered her new basil planter with rose water and her tears exclusively, and the plants flourished, while Isabetta gradually declined. When the brothers saw that her attraction to the pot of basil robbed her of her health and beauty, they stole the pot away to check what was inside. Deprived of her beloved pot of basil, Isabetta died of broken heart.
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John Melhuish Strudwick

A nice romantic story, isn’t it? Who cares about the ghoulish slant, right?

In 1818, John Keats wrote a poem based on that story. Several of Pre-Raphaelite painters, inspired by his poem, created beautiful paintings. Some, like William Holman Hunt and John Melhuish Strudwick, even produced two different versions. Obviously, those paintings were successful. They throb with emotions, the girls in the paintings are the epitomes of a romantic female, so admired by the brotherhood, the backgrounds are richly detailed, but the legend itself grossed me out. I mean: she buried a cadaver’s head in a pot and kept it close to her bed, while the organics inside decomposed slowly. It’s so macabre, it doesn’t fit inside my mind. And they painted it. Yikes!

*** You could click on all the paintings in this post to see the larger versions. ***

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There are many visual interpretations of this legend, some of them contemporary, but I can’t show them all here, although below are a few more. They are all really beautiful paintings. Especially if you don’t know the story.

George Henry Grenville Manton

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Joseph Severn

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Arthur Nowel

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Interview with Altenay

On May 2nd, the anthology of fantasy short stories Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life was released by Dancing Lemur Press. The anthology is comprised of 12 stories. One of them is my story Captain Bulat.

As a promotional effort, several of the authors, me included, decided to interview our leading characters on the anthology-dedicated website. Here is a re-blog of that interview I conducted with the heroine of my story, Altenay.

Tell me about yourself—name, profession, home, family, the usual.

I’m Altenay. I’m 19 years old and am a Bessar. My people, Bassars, were nomads for centuries before they settled in this kingdom a hundred years ago. We keep our traditions and clothing and we look different than the rest of the citizens. They mostly have white skin and blond or sandy hair, while we have brown skin and dark hair. Otherwise, we are all the same, under the same laws. Now and again, some troublemakers would stir troubles between our nations, and someone would break someone else’s stall in a marketplace, or a fist fight would erupt in a tavern, but our King is fair to everyone, and his guards always maintain peace between Bessars and the rest. Some people intermarry, of course, but most keep to their own nation when starting a family.

My best friend, Vasilisa, is not a Bessar. She has beautiful honey-colored braids and cute freckles, and I love her to distraction. I owe her my freedom, but that is another story. You can read it here.

Both Vasilisa and I don’t have any family but each other. Vasilisa is a taxidermist. I’m a Finder. We live together in the same house… until Vasilisa finds the love of her life and gets married. I think it will happen soon: she is too lovely to stay single. Already several young men are courting her. When she picks the best one, I’ll move out and get a place of my own. I doubt I’ll ever marry but I’ll love Vasilisa’s children. I’ll spoil them rotten. I hope she has many.

How did you end up in this crazy adventure your story talks about?

Councilor Shamer, one of the most powerful men in our city, hired me to find Captain Bulat. That’s what I do. I’m a Finder. I Find things and people that are lost. The man, Captain Bulat, had been a hero of the last war, which ended 25 years ago. He disappeared a few days after the peace treaty had been signed. The City Council wanted to put up a statue in his honor, to commemorate our victory in the war, and they wanted me find their lost hero. If he was still alive.

It was a strange case. Usually, I’m hired to find something like a misplaced brooch, a stolen bolt of expensive fabric, or a pony who wandered off in the night. Something lost recently, not two decades after the fact… although there was one other memorable occasion. Anyway, in the Captain Bulat’s case, my Finder’s magic started misbehaving from the moment I attempted my first search. I knew something was wrong about this fellow, although I didn’t believe he was dead. Perhaps he was hiding from my magic, or someone else was interfering with my search? Someone definitely didn’t want me to find him.

I shouldn’t have accepted the job, it felt dangerous from the beginning, but I had no choice. I did take the Councilor’s money. I had to deliver the results: either find the man or at least find proof of his death.

Could you tell me about the most interesting case of yours?

The most interesting? It was probably my first case in the city, soon after Vasilisa and I arrived here. A lady came to me – I won’t embarrass her by disclosing her name; I promise full discretion to all my customers – and asked me to find her illegitimate child. Fifteen years ago, she had been unfaithful to her husband, and the baby was the result. The husband, a high-ranking officer, had been away from home both at the time of conception and of birth, lucky for her. I heard he had been a brute. He wouldn’t have forgiven her betrayal.

Her labor was hard, and she was unconscious for two days after. She never saw her baby. Her midwife, a loyal servant of hers, had taken the baby away, as instructed, and never returned. The lady didn’t know what happened to her or the baby. She didn’t even know if she had given birth to a girl or a boy. After her husband’s recent death, she wanted to find her baby again and adopt it formally. Her late husband and she didn’t have any children of their own.

It was a fascinating case: both the search and its results. But that is an entirely different story.

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The anthology is available everywhere books are sold. Or you can buy it from the publisher’s website.

The cover art for my story is a painting by the Polish artist working in France Emile Eisman-Semenowsky (1859-1911).

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Searching for a boy

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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OPTIONAL IWSG MAY QUESTION: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

MY ANSWER: Homemade bombs. A few years back, I wrote a short story, an urban fantasy, about a young witch finding and defusing a bomb at a shopping fair. She had to do it by magical means, of course, but I needed to know what goes inside a bomb to be able to apply her magic. I have to tell you: the internet is a treasure trove of information on the weirdest of subjects, especially wikipedia, although I worried for a time after I did that research that some government agency or another would be interested in me. To my relief, nobody was. The story is part of my collection Squirrel of Magic.
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My research for my stories doesn’t exclusively involve combing the internet for information. Often, it is a hunt for a cover image, and occasionally, it leads to unexpected results. Lately, I have been thinking about a short fantasy story, set in my favorite quasi-medieval world, with a teenage boy protagonist.

I don’t have many of those: most of my protagonists are young women. The story is almost ready in my head, I just have to write it down. As usual at this point, I wanted to find an image of my protagonist and I started looking where I always look for my medieval characters: classical art of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

That’s a very wide field of search, and I’ve always been able to select my heroines there. You could find hundreds of girls or young women of any class and skin color – from a red-headed country maid, to a blonde aristocratic lady, to a sensuous gypsy dancer, to a mythological amazon – among classical paintings floating on cyber waves. But this time, I encountered a blank wall. To my surprise, there are almost no adolescent boys in those paintings.

There are boy children and then, there are men. But it seems the artists of old had an aversion to painting teenage boys. Of course, there are portraits of princes and dukes of any age, but even counting them, there is maybe one depiction of a fifteen year old boy per a hundred adult males. And the girls heavily outnumber them both.

The only exception is David, the one who won against Goliath. Almost every classical painter painted David at least once, and all of them painted him as a teenage boy, often half-naked, with Goliath’s severed head in a triumphant grip. Some of those boys are actually very nice paintings, and I could, maybe, use one or two for my hero, but what would I do with the huge dead head? It is not in my story.

I tried playing with the images, making the head appear as a sack or a rock, depending on its location. Once, I put a column from another painting in front of David to hide Goliath’s head. The results were not too bad, but not exactly what I wanted.

When Davids didn’t work for me, I started looking elsewhere, specifically at free fantasy wallpapers. I wanted to find a young archer dressed in a ‘sort-of’ medieval garb. I did what everyone does in such situations: I Googled “boy archer fantasy wallpaper.” I thought I would have hundreds of hits, but… surprise! The majority of fantasy archer images used for wallpapers – could you believe it? – are girls, too. Hordes of them, with bows and swords, mostly dressed in bikinis.

I’m not touching the overabundance of bikini-clad female warriors in this post, but where are the boys?
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UNRELATED NEWS: yesterday, May 2, was the official release day of the IWSG short story anthology Hero Lost. I’m one of the authors fortunate to be included in the anthology. We all do our best to promote the book, and one of my contributions is a guest post I wrote yesterday for Stephanie Faris’s blog. You can read my post, Open-ended stories, here.

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Defying Kikimoras published

My short fantasy story, Defying Kikimoras, was published this month in Bards and Sages Quarterly. The story is about a young mother whose baby son is sick. She is going to do whatever it takes, defy living people and malevolent spirits, to save her son’s life. Below is the start of the story.
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Gleb patted his beard. “We robbed a huge caravan—fifty wagons and only ten guards. Lucky for us, the greedy merchants skimped on the guards.”
Aglaya nodded absently. She didn’t care about the raid. “Levi is ailing again.” She gestured at the curtain separating their two-year-old son’s den from the kitchen. “He’s been coughing and fevered since you left.” She settled beside Gleb and put her hand on his huge hairy palm. Her thin fingers seemed feeble on top of his. “Gleb, take us to a Healer tomorrow morning. Levi will die otherwise. I’ve done all I could. Nothing helps.”
A wet cough and a weak cry from the den underscored her words. Aglaya flew to her son’s side. She scooped him out of bed and held his thin little body to her breast, caressing his skinny back with its sharp shoulder blades. Levi whimpered and coughed some more before sliding back to sleep. His tangled blond curls tickled her cheek. His skin was hot and dry, and hoarse bubbles raged inside his small chest on each stuttering inhale. Despite all her ministrations and herbal tinctures, her son would die, if she didn’t get him to a Healer.
Gleb held the curtain with his hand, watching her, his mouth a grim line. “I can’t take you to a Healer. The hills teem with the tsarina’s soldiers. They’re hunting us. They’ll never find us here, but if we leave the vale, we’re easy prey. They’ll torture us until I break. They’ll kill everyone here. No. Petro would never permit us to go, not for Levi.”
Aglaya didn’t reply. She should’ve known…
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You can read the rest of the story by buying the issue from the magazine’s website.

When I wrote this story, I wanted it to have a Slavic flavor. Kikimora from the title of the story is a creature of Slavic folklore, a bad-tempered female spirit. I used a couple more Russian terms inside the story, but when I searched for a cover image, no Russian painting reflected my heroine. I found my Aglaya in a painting by Charles Sillem Lidderdale (1830-1895).

Lidderdale was a British painter specializing in the portraits of idealized young women, usually from lower and middle classes. I’m not sure about the realism of his images, but they are pretty, and their clean lines and pastel colors agree with my sense of beautiful.

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WEP: Madonna run

Many of you, including the hosts of the WEP website Yolanda and Denise, asked me in the comments to the previous WEP challenge to continue Tasya’s story. Below is the next vignette in the series – and the next medallion. In case you missed it, the first installment, Shielding Misha, is here. Not sure I could keep it up for the entire year, but I’ll try.
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“Did you also give birth yesterday?” Tasya asked one of the other new mothers. All three of them were nursing their babies – the first nursing of the morning. Her little son sucked greedily, while her fingers caressed his downy hair.

“No. The day before,” the flaxen-haired woman said. “They’ll discharge me today, after the next feeding.” Her big hand traveled all over her baby’s blanket, absently straightening the creases. “You two came in yesterday. I’m Ira. What is your name?”

“Tasya.” Tasya turned to her other roommate. “What is yours?”

“Jailbird.” The woman’s hands held protectively over her nursing baby. Her dark curly hair concealed her face. “We’re both jailbirds.”

“Traitor,” Ira said. “The NKVD are waiting for her.” She nodded at the window. “She shouldn’t have sold our communist Russia to the dratted capitalists.”

“NKVD is waiting for her?” Tasya whispered, appalled.

“I saw them bringing her in yesterday,” Ira said. “Enemy of the people.” She grimaced. Then she kissed her baby, and her grimace transformed into adoration.

The other woman said nothing.

Tasya felt cold. Her son fell off her breast with a contented sigh, and her magic stirred. She had dropped one of her magical medallions, the mother-and-baby medallion, into her purse just before she called a taxi to the hospital, but it had been an impulse. She had thought it fitting for her upcoming labors. She didn’t expect to find someone who needed her magic in this place. Only peace and love should exist in a maternity ward, but neither was forthcoming for the poor woman. She would have to help her. As soon as a nurse carted the babies away, Tasya climbed out of bed.

Ira also threw off her blanket. “I must get dressed. I’m going home soon.”

Perching on the edge of Ira’s bed, Tasya squeezed Ira’s shoulder in false solicitude. “Is your husband meeting you?” She unleashed a bit of her magic, playing with possibilities.

“No. Nobody does.” Ira yawned. “We just moved to the army base in the suburbs. I don’t know anyone yet, and my husband couldn’t get a pass. He is an officer. No matter. I’ll take a bus.”

Before she could rise, Tasya pushed with her magic. “Wonderful,” she said. “Sleep.”

Ira’s eyes glazed over. Her body slumped, and her breathing deepened.

“Get up,” Tasya commanded.

Obediently, Ira got up and stood immobile, waiting for further directions.

Tasya faced the other bed. “I’ll help you escape. I hate NKVD. They shouldn’t have your baby. Can you walk? Do you have a place to go? To hide from them?”

The woman stared at her. “They’re waiting for me at the front. I can’t pass them.”

“Yes, you can. You’ll look like Ira. You will be discharged in her place today, with her documents. She’ll sleep until tomorrow. What is your name?”

“Rachel,” the woman said faintly. “What… how?”

“I have magic,” Tasya said. “You need to swap beds. Move.”

Shakily, Rachel got out of her bed. Tasya conducted Ira to Rachel’s bed and tucked her in. With one of her subjects safely in magical sleep, Tasya turned to Rachel. A few passes of her magic, and Rachel’s dark hair lightened to Ira’s flax. Her kinks uncurled into straight oily strands. Freckles appeared. Her small body even looked as tall as Ira’s. “Good,” Tasya approved her own handiwork. “Your disguise will hold until midnight. Do you have any money?”

Rachel shook her head. “They…” Her alto quivered. “They said they went to my husband’s office to arrest him, but he fled through the back door. I hope he got away. Then they drove to our home and arrested me. My waters broke in their car.”

“Get dressed.” Tasya rummaged in her purse for the medallion and put it over Rachel’s head. She gripped the little pewter Madonna and poured magic into it. “Protect!” she murmured and felt the power settle into the trinket. “Now you wait on Ira’s bed. After the next nursing, a nurse will take you to the office to get discharged.”

Tired from such a big expenditure of magic, she dived into her purse for the treats she had brought: apples and chocolate. She needed to recharge before working more magic. After her hasty repast, she pulled a ten-ruble bill from her purse. Rachel needed money for her upcoming escape.

Making a blanket tent on her bed, Tasya put the ten rubles into the dark cave under the blanket and called the same type of bills to come to her from all over the hospital. Her magic stretched, and an incipient headache started between her eyes. The paper bills rustled cheerfully under the blanket. The pile grew pretty thick before the bills stopped coming. “Must be a pay day or something,” she muttered, collected the bills, and wrapped them in one of the clean rags they were given for their flows.

“You’ll wrap it in with your baby before you go. Keep a few in your pockets,” she instructed. “Should be enough to get you out of Moscow. If you can.”

Pale, her brown eyes huge in her drawn face, Rachel nodded.

When the babies arrived for the next nursing, Tasya switched the name tags between the tiny wrists of Rachel’s and Ira’s girls. Ira nursed her daughter without waking up and dropped back into her enchanted sleep immediately after. When a nurse came for her, Rachel clutched her baby with the wrong name tag and got up from Ira’s bed. She tossed a last desperate glance at Tasya, mouthed, “Thank you,” and shuffled after the nurse.

An hour later, Tasya looked out the window. Rachel came slowly out of the hospital’s front door, her baby in her arms. She passed the bored NKVD guards and disappeared into the street.

Smiling, Tasya settled back in her bed. Her head throbbed, but the next feeding time wouldn’t be for two more hours. She could rest. She felt suffused by peace and love. Her son was beautiful. Rachel should be safe. Tomorrow, when it all started to unravel, Tasya would claim ignorance. Ira might screech her indignation, but nobody would suspect magic, and Rachel would be long gone. Tasya slept.

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Posted in Olga Godim, WEP | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Cutting, cutting, cut!

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

I have decided to participate in one of the current Wattpad competitions. This one is for a fan-fiction story, which I already posted there, and the only requirement that didn’t quite fit was the word count. They set the ceiling at 10,000 words, and my story was almost 12,000 words. To enter the competition, I needed a serious revision to cut out 2,000 words.

Cutting is painful. You want to express this idea and that, to let your readers know all the important details, to explain the history and contemplate the possibilities, but if you wish to eliminate 20% of your story, every inessential word must go. The beautiful adjectives. The complex clauses. The entire paragraphs dedicated to a charming but irrelevant side plot.

It took me several passes to cut out that much. At one point, I didn’t think I could do it at all without mutilating my story beyond salvation. But in the end, the story emerged better, tighter, more focused than before. I entered it into the competition.

Now, it is up to the judges and the readers. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how they decide on the winners. Probably, as everything on Wattpad, the stories with the highest number of reads/likes win.
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Here is the summary of my story:

Five Days of Elf, is an urban fantasy inspired by Wen Spencer’s Elfhome universe. Lisa, a film school student from Vancouver, Canada, attends a local Shakespearean festival, when a gun-toting terrorist embarks on a shooting spree. She could’ve been killed, if not for a young man in a gray turban who risked his life stopping the shooter. After this traumatic event, the story plunges into the next five days of Lisa’s life, the most turbulent five days… with an elf.
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You don’t need prior knowledge of Wen Spencer’s Elfhome books before reading this story. Everything relevant is right there, in the text, despite my ruthless cutting.

Come read the story, folks. Help me be among the winners.

The image for the cover: courtesy of my favorite free image site, Pixabay.

Have you ever needed to cut your story to such a degree? What was the reason? What was your approach to cutting? Tell me in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Fantasy, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Short Story, wattpad | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

“Paper Cuts” published

My short fantasy story, Paper Cuts, was published today in Devilfish Review. The story is about a young librarian Ninele. She uses her paper magic against goblin mercenaries besieging her city. Here is how the story starts.
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“You’re to take care of the children,” the head librarian said.

A group of magic students huddled behind his back. The younger ones looked subdued and scared. The older ones glared at Ninele. They wanted to help protect their city from the goblin mercenaries. She did too. None of them wanted to hide in the library with her babysitting them. Unfortunately, neither the children nor Ninele could do much on the walls of their besieged city. The kids had yet to grow into their prospective powers, while her magic was small, confined to paper, no use on the walls either. It was better to keep them in the library, out of trouble, and she was the obvious choice to supervise them.
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To read the full story, click here.

The cover image comes from one of my favorite artists, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement, Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898).

I love Pre-Raphaelites, their bright colors and their often quirky themes. Unlike many artists before them, they didn’t concentrate their art on the Bible, nor on the Victorian life of their contemporary England. Their paintings tell stories that have nothing to do with religion or reality and everything to do with beauty. They painted Greek legends and illustrated medieval poetry. They paid tribute to Shakespeare and Dante. They were the fantasists of visual arts, and their imagery appeals to me, a fantasy writer.

Posted in Fantasy, Olga Godim, Short Story | Tagged , , | 4 Comments